Welcome to March


According to medieval calendars, March has something to do with trees. Either you’re supposed to prune them, like the gentleman on the left, or you’re supposed to ambush them with an axe like the guy on the right. Even though the trees will never see you coming, it’s probably best to stick with pruning, lest you be confused with someone knocking acorns out of the trees for their hogs. That’s so November.

Important and/or interesting medieval dates in March include:

  • March 4th, 1152 — Frederick Barbarossa, AKA “Freddie Red Beard” is elected king of the Germans.
  • March 6th, 1079 — Omar Khayyam, the Persian jack-of-all-trades (with help from some less-famous Muslim mathematicians) completes the calculations for the Persian calendar. It’s officially adopted a week later.
  • March 7th, 1277 — The Condemnations of 1277 are issued. Among the things condemned, or officially banned upon pain of excommunication: Andreas Capellanus’s On Courtly Love and huge swaths of Aristotelianism, including the beliefs that “The only wise men in the world are philosophers” and that “It is impossible to refute arguments of the philosopher concerning the eternity of the world unless we say that the will of the first being embraces incompatibles.” You’ve got to hand it to the medieval Church. Faced with losing an argument against Aristotle, they pass a law that makes his arguments illegal.
  • March 11th, 1387 — The Battle of Castagnaro is fought between the Paduans and Veronese, another victory for John Hawkwood, most famous of the condottieri.
  • March 16th, 1190 — Over 100 English Jews commit suicide in York by self-immolation rather than be forcibly converted by a rioting mob.
  • March 25th, 1306 — Robert the Bruce becomes king of Scotland. I’m done with gratuitous Braveheart references, though, so you’ll have to provide your own this month.
  • March 26th, 1484 — William Caxton prints his edition of Aesop’s Fables.
  • March 27th, 1309 — Pope Clement V excommunicates the entire city of Venice. To be fair, the Venetian armies were beseiging him at the time.
  • March 28th, 845 — Paris is sacked by the Vikings, led by Ragnar Hairy-Pants. They pay him a lot of cash (7,000 pounds of silver) and he goes away to terrorize the rest of France instead. If you need an excuse to get drunk and stumble around the streets in March, might I suggest Ragnar Lodbrok Day? Admit it. St. Patrick’s Day is played out, and how many other chances do you get to break out the old horned helmet?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Tim of Angle

    “You’ve got to hand it to the medieval Church. Faced with losing an argument with Aristotle, they pass a law that makes his arguments illegal.”

    The spiritual ancestor of the modern Democratic party.

  • Derek

    Yeah, cause when you think of the church imposing its will through government, you definitely think of the Democrats.

  • Got Medieval

    Don’t make me come down there, you two.

  • Tawrin

    You’ve left out the most important thing about the condemnations of 1277: they were the birth of modern science. I doubt the Democrats could lay claim to that, no matter how early-last-century their historiography.

  • Nathan

    Sorry, Tawrin, the birth of modern science can be traced unambiguously to the Babylonian ibn al-Haytham’s authoring of “Optics” while under house arrest in 11th century Egypt.

  • Tawrin

    But that didn’t happen in France, and its cause wasn’t the Catholic Church, so I’m afraid you’re mistaken.

    I should also point out that Islam contained in itself no germs of speculation, out of which a native religious philosophy, harmonizing with the doctrines of the Koran, could be developed. Equally incapable was it of forming a genuine, internal alliance with the Greek philosophy. The Christian doctrine, on the other hand, as it has been preserved in the Catholic Church, has at all times possessed sufficient power and internal consistency to abandon itself, on the one side, without fear and without danger, to a free course of speculation within the pale of its dogmas.

    So clearly, Nathan, what you say can’t be the case.

  • Nathan

    Tawrin: I can’t tell if you’re joking.

    Al-Haytham’s “Optics” was certainly known in Europe, at that time two centuries later, via Spain. We don’t need to speculate about what researches the Islamic or Christian doctrines might have been capable of tolerating; we know of researches that were really performed, widely recognized, and propagated with evident great manual effort.

    It was by the same pathway that Europe acquired the Indian zero and place-value numbering system, suppressed until the renaissance by your freely-speculating Church. Likewise, algebra, wholly original to your supposedly sterile Islamic world.

  • Nathan

    Tawrin: OK, I get it. Medieval reasoning must be all the rage around here. Apologies to our host for being obtuse and (worse, I suppose) tedious.

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